10 Ways Hollywood Warps our Expectations about Sex

by | Jul 13, 2022 | Pornography, Sex, Sexual Intimacy | 10 comments

Hollywood and Sex: 10 ways Hollywood messes up our sexual expectations.
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Has Hollywood totally messed up our sex lives?

I talk a lot about how evangelical teaching has messed up our expectations around sex. But let’s face it–a lot of those expectations are in movies and shows, too!

Behind the scenes at the blog we’re getting ready to move over to a new domain in a few weeks, and we’re only taking posts from 2018 onwards. But I found one from earlier that I did want to take, so I thought I’d rerun it today! Let’s talk Hollywood and bad sex advice. 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

So here we go–10 ways Hollywood messes up our views of sex.

1. She Looks Like a Supermodel

Did you know that forensic scientists are always drop dead gorgeous? And they show up to work in heels and with a ton of mascara. I obviously chose the wrong profession.

Everybody in Hollywood looks perfect. You wouldn’t be in Hollywood if you didn’t look perfect! But look around at the people that you know in real life. We aren’t that beautiful a bunch. Most of us are just pretty normal.

(And incidentally–this is why I love British shows so much! In Britain, people tend to look a little more normal!). 

What We Feel: It’s easy to think that you can’t be sexy if you have a tummy at all. Have you ever looked down at yourself post-baby and just thought, “I’m disgusting now”? Most of us have, because most of us have tummies. That’s because we’re WOMEN. Hollywood tells us that flawless is sexy, and so it’s easy to believe that if we have flaws, we therefore aren’t sexy. And when we don’t feel sexy, we often shut down. Don’t let Hollywood shut you down! Hollywood’s not worth it. 

2. He Looks Like an Adonis

And it’s not just women. Every man in Hollywood has a six pack. And they don’t age, either! I remember when we were homeschooling watching the 60s movie To Kill a Mockingbird with my girls. It was awesome. Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Fitch, was 46 years old when he acted in it. And he looked pretty normal. We watched it in 2011, when Brad Pitt was 48. But Brad Pitt easily looked 15 years younger.

What we Feel: Men aren’t supposed to be distinguished anymore; they’re supposed to be sexy. That can warp how we see attraction to our husbands, too!

3. The Women Always Have Libidos Through the Roof

Women want sex. All the time. They want it just as much as men do. From episodes of Friends to Sex and the City, women are always raring to go.

What We Feel: Watch this long enough, and many women start to worry that they’re frigid. If you’re not panting and on the prowl, are you therefore undersexed? Nope. For many women, desire and arousal doesn’t actually kick in until you’ve started to make love. While some women have really high sex drives, many women just don’t. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy making love anyway! If you throw yourself into it, and believe your body will follow, it likely will.

If, on the other hand, you believe Hollywood and you’re waiting until you’re completely turned on to have sex, you may be waiting a long time.

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4. The Men Always Have Libidos Through the Roof

Men are sex obsessed. Every man is thinking about sex all the time. Whether it’s the nerds in The Big Bang Theory or the detectives in Law & Order, they’re all out to “get some”.

What We Feel: About 19% of evangelical women have the higher sex drive in their marriages. And if you’re that woman, it’s easy to figure, “I must be really, really undesirable.” Because every other guy is sex obsessed except for mine!

But what if it’s not true? What if not every guy IS sex obsessed? Then perhaps we wouldn’t feel so rejected. If your husband doesn’t want sex, you’re not alone! In our research for The Great Sex Rescue, we found that about 1/5 of women have the higher sex drive, and many couples have shared sex drives. I have a series on dealing with husbands with low libidos that may help you.

5. Porn is Fun! (Not!)

When characters on sitcoms watch porn, it’s usually something to laugh about. Sometimes couples watch it together, in the hopes of getting aroused together. Or the guys watch porn on poker night. It’s just a natural part of life.

In evangelical resources, porn is often portrayed as something inevitable that men will do, so women have to have frequent sex with their husbands to stop the porn use. But at least porn is seen as something bad (even if the accompanying message is toxic). In Hollywood that’s often not the case, though there are some exceptions in more recent movies (like Don Juan).

What We Feel: Then, when your husband watches porn and tells you “everybody does it”, you wonder, “am I a prude for thinking this is wrong?” And porn wrecks marriages. Porn isn’t harmless. It causes us to fantasize, to dissociate, to not be able to get aroused by a person but only an image. It causes people to turn to porn instead of each other, and soon takes away desire for your spouse almost entirely. It develops a pornified style of relating of objectification of women, where women are seen as objects to use rather than people to love. 

And porn is problematic if women watch it too! 

It’s selfish. It’s evil. And it’s exploitative. A marriage will steadily go downhill if one or both partners watch porn.

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6. Marriage is Boring

Back in the 1990s my husband and I used to watch Friends. I thought Chandler was just hilarious. But one night, after a particularly raunchy episode, we realized we were essentially watching a show about people jumping into bed with one another. And we stopped.

In Hollywood, the hottest sex scenes usually occur the FIRST time a couple falls into bed. It’s that conquest that makes it so arousing. And so most shows revolve around winning a new person to go to bed with. Marriage, where you past that “first” time decades ago, is awfully boring.

What We Feel: Sex needs to be new, and fresh, and exciting! And marriage is the opposite of all of that. We start to feel like we’re missing out on something, and that all we have is the boring leftovers. The reason we’re not satisfied, we think, must be because we’re with the same partner who doesn’t know how to turn us on. In reality, though, the best sex is between married people–and not even newlyweds! In my research for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I found that the best years for sex in marriage were between years 16-20. So sex isn’t boring–practice is actually far sexier than conquests!

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7. Sex is Best When You Play the Field

Sex is better with practice, says our media. You can’t expect to know what to do unless you practice with a bunch of people!

While sex does take practice, what you really need to make sex great is the ability to communicate to a spouse about what you want, which requires vulnerability, which is based on trust. And you need a partner who is humble and willing to listen! 

What We Feel: We forget that sex is also truly intimate, and it’s the intimacy that gives sex power. You don’t have to know how to please everyone in the world; you just have to study your spouse, and you can do that in marriage. And we feel as if we’ve lost out if we only have sex with one person. On the contrary, our study did find that many women have amazing sex lives with their husbands–and multiple sex partners don’t mean that you have better sex at all.

8. Sex Has No Repercussions

People drop into bed easily in movies and TV shows, and then the next day go on their merry way, treating the whole thing “like adults”. It doesn’t have to affect anything; it’s just a fun one-night stand. You don’t see broken hearts, or people who have trouble getting rid of sexual baggage from past relationships. Sex is treated as a simple recreational activity–almost like you use each other as sex toys for your own enjoyment, with no commitment.

What We Feel: Many of us DO struggle with sexual baggage. We do struggle with jealousy over our husband’s past lovers. We expect sex to be easy, and we’re not prepared for the mind games and the guilt and shame that can come afterwards if we have sex with multiple partners. It’s sad, because our media is really cheapening sex and taking the power out of it.

How Hollywood Messes Up our View of Sex

9. Foreplay is Unnecessary

Most women require a LOT of foreplay to become aroused enough to enjoy making love. Many women require a lot of touching to even reach climax. In fact, we found that women who do reach orgasm are more likely to do so in ways other than through intercourse. the foreplay is the main thing!

But on the screen, people grope and kiss and within less than two minutes the clothes are off and the bodies are joined. No one ever gropes around to find just the right body parts to caress. No one ever has to ask, “is this the right place?” They automatically know, and everybody automatically feels amazing.

What We Feel: If simply ripping clothes off isn’t enough to arouse us, then we start to wonder if there’s something wrong. And we feel weird and uncomfortable asking our husbands for more foreplay, because it honestly looks like NO ONE ELSE NEEDS IT. We’re the freaks. And you start to think everyone else must be way more sexually responsive than you are, because two minutes of groping does nothing for you.

10. The Couple Always Reaches the Big “O” Simultaneously

No one ever struggles with making sex feel good. From the very first time (in movies like The Notebook), women experience absolute bliss. And the bliss is perfectly timed, too! There’s no “making sure she feels good” first. There’s no struggling with how to reach the Big “O” at all! It’s just absolutely easy and natural.

What We Feel: No wonder so many new brides feel like there’s something wrong with their bodies! Look, ladies: most women do not experience simultaneous orgasm. They don’t. That’s not to say it isn’t possible; it’s just that it’s not terribly common. And in my surveys for The Great Sex Rescue, only about 48% of women always or almost always experienced orgasm at all–and many don’t through intercourse. Most of the rest reached it some other way, and that’s perfectly fine.

It’s great to aim for the stars, and our Orgasm Course can help you do that (and we’ve got a module at the end to make orgasm through intercourse more attainable). But you are not a freak if things don’t come easily!

I can think of tons of other unrealistic portrayals–no one ever has morning breath, no one ever goes to the bathroom afterwards, no one ever is freezing so they have to wear flannel.

But these ones about marriage being boring, porn being arousing, men wanting it all the time, and women responding easily and rapidly really distort how sex works for most people. You were made so that in order for sex to feel good for both of you, you have to have a lot of communication. You have to know each other well. You have to be able to be vulnerable. And he has to take time to serve you! And it isn’t automatic, and that’s perfectly okay.

It is not you that’s messed up when it comes to sex; it’s Hollywood!

So don’t take it as the baseline for what your sex life should be. And don’t worry what other people are experiencing, either! What matters is what you and your husband manage to work at together. If you’re happy, that’s great. And if you’re not happy, the answer likely isn’t to try to emulate Hollywood. It’s just to get to know yourself better, know your husband better, and understand how and why God created sex.

And isn’t it a relief to know that it’s not just evangelical resources that get it wrong? (seriously–will anyone ever get it right?)

Hollywood warps our Expectations about Sex

Have you ever seen a really accurate depiction of sex (not super graphic, but more of an accurate depiction of the dynamic that couples have)? Let me know in the comments!

(And for me–the most incredibly accurate depiction of vaginismus I’ve ever seen is in the Netflix documentary Unorthodox. It was heartbreaking and right on point). 

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Codec

    You know looking at art you see something interesting. In the renesaince paintings of Rembrandt or Rubens you see not only larger women, but a variety of peoples that are painted fantastically. In paintings of Adam and Eve, Aphrodire, or in the case of Japan Ame no Uzume, Take Mikazuchi, or Tomoe they clearly are idealized forms, but they also look rather well human.

    I find it odd really. Porn use is so prevalent we had comercials for frozen food where they played on it like porn addicts. To be honest it is lonely. Constantly having your libido on steroids is a sad lonely experience. You wonder why anybody would even consider getting to know you. Romance seems like a far flung dream. It may be beautiful but who would want you? Porn has a way of making you feel like you have nothing to contribute. Your ideals, your memes, your genes, all of it feels worthless in the shame of it.

    People are lonely. Loneliness can drive people to do terrible things.

  2. Ruth M

    #11 for me was that all women are screamers. (When Harry met Sally) He thought he was doing something wrong if I was waking the neighbors.

  3. Jane Eyre

    Great list, Sheila. I particularly like #9, because that’s really the core of what makes any type of intimacy good for women – knowing where to touch, knowing where not to touch, etc.

    If you were deliberately trying to portray sex in a way that messes people up, what would you do differently?

  4. A2bbethany

    I haven’t watched it, but in the trailer it seemed pretty accurate. I think it was a teenager Chic flick called “the first time”. 2 teens decide to do it together, but apparently they keep falling asleep. Nothing happened because they’re nervous and maybe don’t really want to do it. Obviously the trailer jumped around, but it looked pretty accurate to reality.
    Doing it the first time is very intimidating and a big deal! No matter how it goes down.
    It looked entertaining, but I didn’t want to watch a flick completely centered around sex. I like a more dramatic romance angle!(secret princess/ce types)

  5. Laura

    What movies never mention about sex is that it’s messy, you have to pee afterward so you don’t get a bladder infection, and it’s over when he ejaculates. Watch The 40-year-old Virgin. Even though there’s a bit too much talk about sex and some cussing, the storyline is great. Unfortunately, Hollywood cashed in on the 40-year-old virgin stereotype as a guy who lives in an apartment, collects action figures, and rides his bike to work because he hadn’t learned how to drive. So, young people may think that adult virgins over a certain age are weird. I hate that stigma. I’m 46 and have been celibate for 20 years. I don’t think I’m a weirdo.

    • A2bbethany

      And the stereotype of: if a man goes more than a certain period without climax, he’s hurting or forgotten what sex is like. Which feeds into, those not having it MUST be miserable!

  6. Stefanie

    My husband made a comment to me that media (Hollywood/porn) make it seem like everyone’s having amazing, wild sex and it makes him feel like he’s missing out. Then he concluded that reality is much more boring. “I guess this is it.”

    • Codec

      Your husband makes a good observation. The simple truth is that porn is fanciful. You dont think about animation errors or age as much when struggling. Now certainly such things are there and they can snap one away from porn. Still, if you are lonely it can seem welcome. The world can be hard and porn seems soft and warm and accessable.

      Loneliness is scary. Admittedly I do not quite know what to do with loneliness at times.

  7. Janays

    That’s an interesting find about sex being some of the best between years 16 and 20. We just had our 19th anniversary and the last few years have been some of the most intimate and intense in the bedroom for us. Even though my body is FAR from idea…I’m much more confident. We are comfortable with each other. Theres just something about that history does that you can’t rush.

    And I agree about the way tv shows portray sex ruining it. We have all of Friends on dvd but I find it so hard to watch now. I’d love to sit back and laugh but I’m not comfortable with it with kids around. The same goes for The Golden Girls. I remember my grandma watching it. Its still hilarious. But it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized what a bunch of raunchy, bawdy women they were. There are very few fictional tv shows we will watch. I love a good, clean regency…if there was a clean version of Bridgerton I’m sure I’d love it. But nope. Not feeding my mind that.

  8. CMT

    So I agree that all the tropes identified here are unrealistic. But really, what Hollywood tropes aren’t? We all know not to expect dramatic car chases, perfectly timed witty dialogue, and magically convenient coincidences in everyday life. The real problem with the tropes about sex, imo, is that we don’t generally educate people well or have candid conversations about what real life sex is actually like.


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